Emotional Distancing

Apparently I did not know how much fear, stress, and anxiety had built up within me over the last year, but apparently it was there all along. Not only was I socially distancing, but I was also emotionally distancing.

While happy to see people I know and care for getting vaccines over the last several weeks, I still found myself getting envious despite intellectually understanding the process the state has used to determine eligibility. Despite that comprehension of the reality of the situation, though, the emotional side of me didn’t understand why so many people came before me. I was jealous. After all, when we first heard about Covid, all the reporting talked about how older people and those with pre-existing conditions were at the greatest risk for getting Covid and from possibly dying from it. And here I was, in my sixties, a survivor with multiple heart conditions, and I had to wait. And wait. And wait. Despite my attempts to suppress it, the envy raised its ugly head, followed by Catholic guilt for thinking that way. There was even a bit of outright anger for those who seemed to be cheating the system by lying about their occupations to get through sooner. I did not want to jump the line, but I didn’t want to be pushed back by others who were doing just that.

Finally, though, the state announced that those with certain health conditions would qualify at the end of March. However, the list included so many conditions, including high body mass index (BMI), that two million more residents of Wisconsin would qualify all at once. That’s more than a third of the state’s population, all of whom would quality at the same time, and most of whom would be trying to schedule appointments at the same time. Within a week after that announcement, the qualifying date was moved up a week to Monday, March 22.

So many emotions. Next came frustration. On Monday, every provider I tried had nothing available. Every pharmacy and health care site I checked gave me the same answer–no vaccine appointments available at this time. On one pharmacy website I checked–the one that I had seen everyone say worked for them–I got the message “Appointments unavailable.” I checked back a littler later and the header said, “Appointments available,”, so I clicked the schedule button, answered their few questions about qualifying, pressed submit, only to come to a page that said, “No appointments available within 25 miles in the next five days.” This happened seven times throughout the day, not to mention the several dozen other times that I got the message up front that no appointments were available.

I submitted quite a few wait list applications that day and at the end of the day felt utterly defeated. I had been naive enough to think that once I qualified it would be a snap to get an appointment and get in and get the vaccine. I got advice from others on different things to try. I got the number for scheduling appointments for my own health care provider, but when I called, despite now being qualified, they said they were still working on group 1b and they were not scheduling those with health conditions yet until they finished with 1b and they could not say when that would be. I started to think it would be impossible to get the vaccine.

Today, after waiting almost twenty minutes on hold, I talked to a human being–Connie–who was nice and encouraging and was there to help me schedule an appointment. I felt love for her in that moment and I felt empathy for how difficult her job must be right now as I knew after waiting on hold like I did that she must be taking one call after another all day long, every day, without much of a break. But she said she was happy to be able to do it and help people like me. She found an appointment at their east side clinic on April 21 and when she told me I started crying. After a year of social distancing, fear of catching a potentially deadly disease, uncertainty about the future, and all of the other feelings that I may have been suppressing it all came out and tears welled up in my eyes. Relief. A great sense of relief and the lifting of many heavy thoughts and emotions came upon me and I could not hold it back any longer.

The appointment is almost a month from now, but knowing there is an appointment allowed a lot of the anxiety to wash away. I still have my name on a number of waiting lists and many friends have suggested other ways of getting earlier appointments, so if I can do that I will, but I can sense the end is in sight. There are millions of people yet who are not even close to being able to schedule an appointment and I feel for them because I know what it feels like to be in that uncertain state of waiting. We have all been there. We have all been through this ordeal together and it will bind us in some strange way for years to come. I look forward to the day when everyone who wants to and can be vaccinated has done it and we can see each other face to face, touch, and hug without fearing that we may get or give a dangerous virus to each other.

Despite the tangle of emotions of this past year I believe it has also been a valuable lesson for those who take lessons from the way the world moves. I think countless people have reevaluated what is real and what is important in this life and I believe that those of us who survive this pandemic will be better human beings and more loving because of it, despite the fear and anxiety that it may have caused. May we all love each other better as we move forward.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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